California braces for black gold rush

Thousands of feet below some of the United States’ richest farmland could be nearly 15.4 billion barrels of crude oil. And companies know it, as they are quietly buying up mineral rights and drilling holes in the ground northwest of Bakersfield to see if they hit the jackpot.

According to federal government’s estimations, the area — known as the Monterey Shale — has far more shale oil than anywhere else in the lower 48 states. This is two-thirds of the US’s total estimated shale oil reserves.

But extracting oil from the deposit, located under more than 1,750 square miles of central and southern California, will require hydraulic fracturing a.k.a. fracking, which has environmentalists already up in arms as they fear potential pollution and damage, reports The Daily Mail.

Experts believe the Monterey Shale could turn California into the US’s top oil-producing state and yield the kind of riches that significantly smaller shale oil deposits have showered on North Dakota and Texas.

Monterey Shale

Monterey Shale. Courtesy of AAPG.

The deposit’s complex geological formation, analysts add, makes extraction too expensive to be economical. But as the industry’s technology improves, the New York Times reports, talks of a new oil boom in California are becoming more serious.

The Bureau of Land Management is selling mineral rights to public lands with plots soaring from $2 an acre to more than $1,000 each. The successful bidders have 10 years to develop a working oil well on the land or the lease expires, reports The Daily Mail. The government receives 12.5% of revenues from the oil.

“It's good for us,” Gabe Garcia, an assistant field officer for the Bureau of Land Management, was quoted as saying. “Last year we brought in $190 million.”

A report published late last year by the International Energy Agency says the US will surpass both Saudi Arabia and Russia becoming the world’s top oil producer by 2017.

The organization, which is the developed world’s most respected energy forecaster, said the rise of the US as an oil superpower is one of the clearest signs yet of how the shale revolution is reshaping the global energy landscape.

 

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